Visual music for non-musicians by Pauline Olivero

The visual fascination with descriptive notations of electroacoustic music is due in part to both their aesthetic beauty and the creative variety of the scores themselves, whose ability to visually represent such a groundbreaking/contemporary musical genre matched the innovation that the musical world went through in the avant-garde years. While classical notation has become, over the centuries, the universal system which fixes in writing a composition, a melody, or any idea of ​​such an order, and music theory expresses the relationships that a composer waiting to be interpreted by a musician-performer in notation, notation in contemporary music is in search of its own universal identity and is still only at the beginning of a journey that began in the 19th century. As an emblem of our discourse, we speak here of “text scores” with specific reference to the writing of the composer Pauline Olivero.

The role of visual representation is not simply attributed to the correspondence on a purely symbolic-abstract level in relation to the musical level, but traces in its very reasons for being the archetype of early/classical music which, after having makes the quantum leap from orality to notated writing, could finally be performed and inherited by generations of other musicians. Musical notation, or “textual scores”, opened a historic turning point, such as that which was traced by the advent of the magnetic/digital medium at the time and which, as we can all testify in contemporary times, paved the way for the universe. fixed sounds (Music sounds set). An interesting discussion on this subject can be found in “The Notation of Electroacoustic Music”. Looking at the past to contemplate the future (Stefano Alessandretti, Laura Zattra).

The new visual tools created by the composer-designers themselves (John Cage, Brian Eno, Krzysztof Penderecki, Cornelius Cardew, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sylvano Bussotti, etc.) brought out vast pictorial/representative capacities in them. This allowed the musicians to sum up in the abstraction of signs and symbols a poetic, anti-standard writing, close to pictorial art sometimes constructivist, sometimes art-nouveau, sometimes abstractionist, a deep journey on horseback between two artistic universes if related.

One thinks for example of the “visual rhythms” of the paintings of the artist Luigi Veronesi, which could derive from multiple electroacoustic compositions, but could on the contrary represent the underlying compositions in an alternative visual order, on condition of organizing the correspondences between chromatisms, proportions, toponomastics and sound elements or performance devices.

The prospective analysis of electronic music and some of its subgenres, such as Glitch Music, offers themes to explore, such as:

  • the figure of the “non-musician and philosopher” who makes music and art, which refers to the theme of this article on “text scores” for non-musicians. Most glitch composers were not musicians but computer scientists, advertisers, visual artists, sound engineers, philosophers;
  • music that, through its digital visual representation (waveform), takes a paradigm leap into a new dimension of thinking (seeing) music; the sound can also be viewed and edited in real time. Sound can be acted with the body. Sound can be read with words.

Our reflection delves into certain transformative processes that will likely continue for a few more years as researchers, musicologists, music informatics and sound engineers continue their research in this area. Were the scores of electroacoustic pieces precursors of this shift between connoted abstract music and classical notation? Or conversely, does electroacoustic and experimental music seek its visual identity as if it were its spiritual half?

In the 1950s, progressive composers defined scope alternatives to experiment with new, more expressive forms of graphic and textual musical notation that went beyond the standardization achieved over centuries of music that radically changed its generative connotations. and productive.

With his “Pendulum Music for 4 Microphones and Amplifiers (1968)”, for example, the composer Steve Reich (1936 New York), who, with Philip Glass, La Monte Young and Terry Riley, belonged to the minimalist movement, offers a simple set of written instructions describing how the play is staged and performed by another figure.

Text scores by Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) was an electronic music pioneer who explored the relationship between music and meditation. His experience is formalized in what is called “deep listening”, a discipline which, through music and meditation, performs “sound meditations”. Anthology of text scores by Pauline Oliveros (2013) brings together four decades of creative work by Oliveros, who has been writing “text scores” since 1971. The anthology was released at the end of a year-long celebration of Oliveros’ 80th birthday; it offers group and solo meditations, as well as performance pieces for ensemble and soloists. This volume is aimed at artists, scholars, adults, children, musicians and non-musicians, as the philosophy of inclusivity is at the heart of Oliveros Deep Listening music.

Upstate New York’s Center for Deep Listening became the heir and promoter of this practice, which, in Oliveros’ words, can be summed up as “a way of listening in all possible ways what you do “. In honor of Oliveros and to celebrate what would have been his 90th birthday (May 30, 3022), Rensselaer’s Center for Deep Listening has invited anyone who has been touched by the philosophy and practice of Deep Listening to submit sheet music to A Year of Deep Listening. A large number of scores were collected at the end of the call, and those selected are published every day for 365 days on the center’s website.

Oliveros’ answer to the fundamental question, what is deep listening? states that it should be considered a permanent practice. The more we listen, the more we learn to listen. Deep listening is all about going below the surface of what is being heard, expanding into the entire sound field while finding focus. This is how one connects to the acoustic environment, to everything that inhabits it and to everything there is.

On each page of Anthology of text scores – which contains one hundred pieces spanning four decades of creative work – Oliveros offers a new perspective on music that transcends notation so that performing a score requires no prior musical knowledge. “Of the myriad forms of experimentation that pervade music in the 20th century, text-based (or prose-based) compositions are among the most compelling,” writes Oliverso. Indeed, no specific music theory or analysis is needed to understand the notations, but simply reading the sheet music increases the power of the music. While this may seem like a simplification, it engages a challenge related to compositional and performance practices that shifts the plane of perspective to a different approach to the discipline and potentially spawns new ideas.

This collection formalizes the Deep Listening approach to music, in a nutshell, and should be considered the most important book by this innovative musician. It’s like having 40 years of Oliveros life’s work, over 100 pieces, in a book small enough to put in your purse. You don’t have to perform the songs, you can just sit on a couch and read them. Each page will fill the head of a musician with sound – a reader of poetry literature, and a visual artist might see it as an illustration manual. It tickles your imagination and your ears. You don’t even have to have an open mind, like Oliveros Anthology of text scores will open it for you.

Mentioned works

Alessandretti, Stefano and Zattra, Laura. “La notazione della musica elettroacustica. Scrutare il passato per contemplare il future”. HAL ID.

Disley-Simpson, Anna.Exploring Text Scores“. February 14, 2020.

Oliveros, Paulina. Anthology of text scores by Pauline Oliveros. ed. Samuel Golter Lawton Hall. Deep Listening Publications. 2013.

“The Sound Meditations of Pauline Oliveros (1974) complete text and scores”. September 13, 2016.

“Pauline Oliveros on deep listening”. The Deep Listening Center.

Stamp, Jimmy. “5 1/2 Examples of Experimental Musical Notation”. Smithsonian Magazine. June 5, 2013.

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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